Monday, June 26, 2017

My week at the CIA!

No, not THAT one. I went to the other one, better known as the Culinary Institute of America. I turn 50 next month, and for my birthday, my husband surprised me with a trip to California to attend a week-long boot camp at the CIA's Greystone facility in St. Helena, California. The "Best Of" Boot Camp takes all of their most popular boot camps and rolls them into one. So, instead of doing 5 days of knife skills and fundamentals, we did that one one day. Same with Italian food, Asian, French and baking. It was kind of a whirlwind, but a lot of fun.

Here's a view of the Greystone campus from across the street at the Charles Krug winery:

I was staying with my cousins, so I had to drive between Sonoma and Napa counties every day. Rough, I know. These are photos from my drive (kind of tricky to get good pics, because of windy, narrow roads, but trust me, the views were lovely!):

Generally what happens each day is that we would gather for lecture at 2pm. After lecture and demonstration, we would go into the kitchen. My class was pretty small -- 11 people -- so we were assigned to a team of 3 with one team of two that switched each day, and each team was assigned a menu, usually 3 items, to make. We tried to get our stuff all done by 8, but sometimes, especially if we took longer in lecture than usual, we went even later. After we cooked, we ate, so most nights I didn't get out of class until around 9pm.

This is my plate from the first night, which was knife skills and fundamentals. Even though I've cooked most of my life, I learned the proper way to hold a knife (higher up on the handle than I thought) and how to cut onions without crying (a sharp knife and slicing through with a back and forth motion, not just straight down). I also got to practice my piping skills with the potatoes duchesse. It was a lot of piping, so my teammates and I shared the work! We got into the kitchen pretty late, so the roast I was supposed to make didn't make it in the rotation that night (we saved it to make another night).

The next day we did Italian. It was neat because I got to work with an ingredient I'd never used before: caul fat. Interesting stuff, for sure! I used it to wrap around the stuffed pork roast. I also learned how to tie a roast properly! My teammate and I (we were a team of two that night) made the roast, gnocchi and stuffed zucchini. Here is our presentation plate:

The bolognese sauce (pictured below on the left) was fantastic! On the right is our full platter of the stuffed zucchini.

My plate for dinner that night. I tried to be conservative in my portions. It was still a lot of food!

Wednesday, we got to class early to take a tour of the whole Greystone campus. The CIA had bought the property from Christian Brothers winery, and you could see that heritage in the top floor, where they still kept some of the wine barrels:

They even have an outdoor oven for students to practice those kinds of skills.

Chef's crossing!

This is the classroom where they teach wine tasting, complete with spit sinks and lights to get a good look at a wine's color. Being in wine country, they have a pretty extensive class offering for wine tasting. Also, we were told on the tour that CIA students at the other campuses are sent here if they want to have a more in-depth background in wine.

This the view from the wine tasting classroom. I would find it hard to concentrate!

Views of the main building:

The foyer of the main building:

This is the Gatehouse, the on-site restaurant run by the CIA students:

Asia night was fun as well. My team made a curry, summer rolls, and crispy Saigon pancakes. In addition to the curry and coconut rice (so good), I worked on the plating for our team. :-)

The other dishes were really delicious! Potstickers, a pork stew and a papaya salad.

These were the presentation plates from all the teams:

That night, we got a bonus chocolate tasting from the chocolatier in charge of the chocolate classes at Greystone. That night, his class worked on single-sourced chocolate. We tasted 3 different chocolates from 3 different areas, and it was amazing how different the chocolates could taste. It was as delicious as it was interesting!

This is me in my chef's get up, which all of us were required to wear. Two sets were given to us as boot camp participants. Even at extra small, the pants were still amazingly long, yet uncomfortably tight at the waist (odd sizing all around).

I think baking day was my favorite. I was excited to be on the team that got to make profiteroles (cream puffs filled with ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce).  My mom made these when I was a kid at home, but I never made them myself, and my youngest loves cream puffs and eclairs, so I really wanted to do this one. :-)

Each team made a bread -- they look so great (I forgot to get a pic of the focaccia)!

Here are all the baked goods. Each team did a bread, a cookie and a dessert item.

Friday, our last day of class, we also got a lunch. We got to sit in the board room, and the food was super!

The salad with tomatoes and burrata (the first time I'd tried it) was fantastic!

Salmon with fried squash blossoms. I forgot to mention that they have their own gardens there, where some of their vegetables and all of their herbs come from.

Dessert was delicious, too. Loved that swipe of lemon curd to cut the richness of the creme fraiche.

Our last night of cooking was all about French bistro. I got to do the quiche, which was exciting, because I could work with pastry dough. Even though I didn't make the dough (I have to practice that, for sure), I did finally get advice on how to keep my crust from sliding off the sides when I do a blind bake. The key (which I didn't know) is to pack the crust with beans all the way up the sides, not just put them on the bottom. Then bake for a few minutes until the edges get dry-looking, then pull out the beans and parchment paper then bake some more so that the bottom can start to bake. It was great! I also got to practice my caramelized onions, which always take longer than I think they're going to. This night I had the time to really get them done. Below is the caramelized onion, smoked salmon quiche. I'm kind of proud of it!

More of the offerings that night, including Croque Monsieur and a hazelnut-crusted camembert with apple chutney. They were all so good!

Me with our instructor for the week:

Me with the pastry chef (on the left) and our instructor. They were fantastic!

It was such a great week! If you are in a position to do this (they offer 2-, 4-, and 5-day classes), I highly recommend it! It was kind of nice to putter in the kitchen (even if we did have time constraints) without having to worry about doing the dishes (yay!). It was also kind of cool to work on commercial equipment, which actually is different from working in the home. I met some great people along the way, too. Folks from all walks of life, younger (we had a recent college grad) to a little bit older than I, folks who mostly microwaved meals and didn't like cooked vegetables to food professionals. And the nicest thing was that we all got along really well, no drama or frustration, regardless of who was on what team for the night. A big thanks to my hubby for splurging on me and knowing exactly what would be a big treat! Now, I have to start planning something good for HIS 50th. Luckily I have a couple of years to figure it out...